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Friday, December 10, 2010

Reflections of an Adult Learner - Learning from Final Presentations

In my Visual Basic Class we had our choice of a gradebook as a final project - either as a database exercise or as a sequential file exercise, but using advanced controls. We had the options of adding enhancements for extra credit. So I tried to do a blended "animal" between the two assignments, something that would give me experience with the best of both. And it was a good exercise. I came up with a fairly decent design and working program. But oh how I learned from my classmates the day we did our final project presentations.

I often get compliments from my instructors. Some have even commented that they wish all students put forth the effort they see me putting forth. But when I hear this, I think, "Well it kinda all depends on where each student is in life ..."

A senior learner vs a young learner - since I went to college at both stages of life (and points in between) I can make the comparison firsthand.

Recently I was chatting in the cafeteria with my friend who had told me about the community college's Senior Scholar Program. She was recounting with relish the unknown role of women in the French Revolution, the topic of a research paper for her history class. She and I often share our journey ... What's different about this stage of life, we decided, is that we are able to be more focussed (oddly) about our education. That's because we have fewer distractions (again oddly). When you go away to college out of high school, your whole life tends to be about education and being a student. But the difference is that so much of life is unknown at that age, whereas at 60 so much of life has been lived. We know who we are, we know who we've been, we know, more or less, what we want, we have ideas about how to get there, and we have a lifetime perspective. We also have our challenges - like being unemployed and bumping up against the specter of age discrimination in our job hunt. We have aging health issues - like arthritis and bifocals. We tend to want to integrate new learning into our life experiences - which slows the learning process for us. The shelves of our memory tend to get a bit overcrowded, and sometimes things fall off. But we aren't trying to go to school, work full time, and raise a family (usually). That enables us to look at the educational process with a whole new eye and to see things about it we never saw when we were younger - things such as learning is a joy and a privilege, however traditional learning processes and institutions aren't necessarily laid out to optimize that aspect ... even though they still get the job done.

But I digress - back to the vb class final project presentations. I chose the database project out of curiosity and practicality. And I more or less stuck with the design suggested by the textbook exercises - which was pretty much having everything on one form but greatly simplifying the design for the user (uncluttering it). As a result of making that choice, I ran into many more challenges than if I had given each function or option its own screen. This was a fact I didn't realize until the final presentations. My solution was probably okay as an academic exercise. But as a viable solution that gives the best product to the user and requires less bending over backwards to make it work (which would make an employer happy), it comes in second to that of my very original thinking classmate. She came up with a nicely designed and friendly vertical screen. It had a greeting and a neat column of five buttons. Each popped up a screen for that function. So simple for the user. And less complicated for the programmer, although I'm sure that design also presented challenges.

Then my other classmate, a c++ programmer, showed me something I always wanted to be possible since the inception of databases as I knew them - back in the dBASE days.

He went through it pretty fast, so I'm going to write what I think I saw. He popped up a screen in VB 2010 that had two datagrids - a parent table and a child table. I believe if he added a student to the child table, the application created a record in the parent table - to maintain referential integrity. This worked both from Visual Basic and in Access 2010 itself. All without programming the first line of code, for the most part. Simply by setting the relationship and letting it do the work for you...

All in all our day of final presentations was a real eye-opener!


JuneBug's Final Project Presentation

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